“Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing. Romances are never as pure as those we imagine during long train journeys, as we secretly contemplate a beautiful person who is gazing out of the window — a perfect love story interrupted only when the beloved looks back into the carriage and starts up a dull conversation about the excessive price of the on-board sandwiches with a neighbour or blows her nose aggressively into a handkerchief.”—Alain de Botton
Many of us, having bloomed in the shadow of the romantic era, believe wholeheartedly in the notion of “the one”. Meaning, we think there’s a singular right person for us—our soulmate—and we’ll know them the second we meet. (Perhaps with the accompaniment of angels singing on high.)
I’ll be clear: that’s not where I’m at. I’m done with romanticising my relationships. Why? Because when we talk about how our partner is “perfect” for us and project the image of a fairytale relationship, it fosters toxic ideas in others (and of course ourselves).
This isn’t purely theoretical. I’ve seen firsthand the problematic implications of the soulmate myth:
- People staying in abusive relationships because their partner is “the one” or, conversely, ending wonderful relationships (only to regret it later) because there were moments it “didn’t feel right”
- People writing off new relationships because they’d already met and lost their “one true love”
- People feeling crushing disappointment that the person they’ve fallen in love with isn’t “right” on paper
The list goes on, but I won’t bore you. Instead, I’d like to outline the reason I believe the perfect partner’s a myth, and why I think you can find deep happiness with someone who’s good enough.
No one will be everything you want
Everyone’s somewhat crazy. Even if you think you’re easy to be with, they’ll be things about that make you nigh-on impossible. We all have strange quirks and habits that make us “imperfect” partners.
It’s also important to remember every attractive quality has a flip side. If your partner’s the life and soul of a party, chances are you won’t see them all night. If you’re drawn to their amazing ability to plan ahead, you’ll likely also be bothered by their unwillingness to be spontaneous.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: you can’t have everything you want, wrapped up in one perfect Homosapien package. It’s not possible. It’s ok to have someone who’s wonderful; they don’t have to be “perfect”.
Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm
By far the biggest myth I’ve heard perpetuated in my community is this: once you fall in with love someone, you’ll adore and desire them every second for the rest of your life. Please. Have you ever slept next to your partner when they have a sickness bug? You’ll love them fiercely but are unlikely to want to rip their clothes off. And what about when they’re being weirdly anal about buying branded breakfast cereal or criticising the way you change the car oil? You’re probably not going to be falling all over yourself to kiss them.
The skill in love is being able to accept your partner despite the things that’ll annoy you for a lifetime. The skill is in being able to communicate your feelings and needs in a kind and respectful way. You can’t just fall in love and expect everything to take care of itself because they’re the “right” person. Love is active.
We all experience relationships differently
We need to stop telling people their relationships are failing because they haven’t met some magical “right” person, because often that’s not the case at all. In fact, in many instances people just need to work on their own issues and how they approach partnerships.
My friend Helen was recently fretting it about her beloved longterm partner because he “didn’t love her enough”. While most would say to her “listen to your instinct! If your gut says it won’t work out, you’re probably right.”, I proceed with caution because I know she has an anxious attachment style and lives in perpetual fear of being left. She doesn’t necessarily need to dump her boyfriend, she might need to work on her self-esteem or let her him know how she wants to be shown love.
On the flip side, my friend Holly can be avoidant. When she’s been in generally happy relationships in the past and fretted about not always “feeling it” with the person, I know there’s a strong chance she’s just sabotaging the relationship because her partner’s getting too close. Again, she doesn’t necessarily need to break up with them but to work on getting comfortable with vulnerability.
We do so much damage when we perpetuate cliches about love. When we tell people they just need to wait for the right person to come along, we’re rendering them helpless instead of empowering them. What if instead we dived a little deeper and started to question our understanding of what love means? If we can just temper our love of fairytales, we’ve got a much better shot at “happily ever after”.